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The Economist: interview with Francois Micheloud
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“MY GOD, Gordon Brown must admire Switzerland,” exclaims François Micheloud, of Micheloud & Cie. “He is sending us so many of his best countrymen, and they are not all Scots.” His firm, which helps rich people move to Switzerland, has seen a steady increase in business over the past two years or so since Britain changed the rules on how it taxes foreign residents.
In downtown Geneva, Daniel Loeffler of the city’s Economic Development Office has also seen a spike in interest, this time from companies. In April, just after Britain increased its top rate of tax for high earners, large numbers of hedge funds and their agents started knocking on his door. “We did not have a strategy to attract hedge funds to Geneva, but this for us was really an opportunity that came up when we had a lot of questions,” he says.
There are, as yet, few signs that the surge of interest has turned into a flood. The Anglo-Swiss club in Geneva will close soon. Two of the city’s English pubs are full of United Nations employees watching football; regulars say that no new bankers or fund managers have appeared of late. One reason may be that firms are still trying to work around kinks in Swiss tax laws that could, in fact, make it an expensive place to base certain activities. One such is its treatment of “carried interest”, a share in the returns that managers can earn, as income rather than as a capital gain.
Another worry, and one that is weighing on the minds of fund managers based in Switzerland, is the European Union’s Alternative Investment Fund Managers directive. The directive is not yet final but Swiss funds worry that it may make it harder for them to do business in the European Union. “In the worst case Swiss asset managers could be forced to relocate staff to inside the EU,” says Matthäus Den Otter of the Swiss Funds Association. “Everyone in the UK says they will go to Geneva. We fear the opposite, sometimes.”
If hedge funds do move to Geneva they will find many of the comforts of home. Mike Jones, a Briton, is doing a roaring trade selling gourmet traditional British cheeses such as Stinking Bishop and Shropshire blue to the Swiss. He says Swiss customers are keen to learn and do not turn their noses up at his cheeses. That sort of attitude may yet lure a different kind of British import.
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